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The giant Chinese dish antenna rises from the desert floor like a phantom, a gleaming metal tower jutting sixteen stories higher into an endless wind-whipped stretch of Patagonian Desert skyline.

The 450-ton device, with its large dish grasp the open skies, is that the centerpiece of a $50 million control station for satellite and space missions designed by the Chinese military.  This enables China to encircle the Globe in a single stroke.

The isolated base can be seen as a symbol striking a chord with Beijing’s long push to be a force in shaping the future Latin American generations. — This will undermine the political, economic and strategic power of the United States within the region.

The station became operational in March, playing an important role in China’s most audacious expedition to explore the far side of the moon — the Argentinian officials were forthcoming to support such a cause.

The Concern

However, the manner in which the station was negotiated should be a cause of concern for the international community.

  • The entire negotiations were held in complete secrecy at a time when Argentinian economy required foreign investment
  • Boost that such an installation will facilitate in the intelligence gathering capabilities of China in the southern hemisphere.

The world is still trying to contemplate the effects of such a Chinese station. US Intelligence community has surely been caught napping in cozy corners in Washington. The US should have stepped in and countered such a deal which it normally does, however, its abstinence raises serious questions of their true intentions. Hope assertive President like Trump has been briefed about this intelligence fiasco which will affect not only his next term but also the future Presidencies.

“Beijing has changed the dynamics of the region, from the agendas of its leaders and businessmen to the structure of its economies, the content of its politics and even its security dynamics,” said R. Evan Ellis, a Professor of Latin American studies at the U.S. Army War school.

Approach of Trump

The US tried to shift its pivot close to China in an attempt to strengthen economic, military and diplomatic ties as a part of the Obama administration’s strategy to constrain China. In this effort, the US has paid very little attention to its southern neighbors within the Americas. China on its part exploited the situation to the best of its diplomatic abilities.

Since the time Mr. Trump has taken office, he has changed the entire approach in some basic ways that, walking away from an age-old free-trade accord with Pacific nations, launching a worldwide trade war. He also has been on record to complain about inheriting the burden of Washington’s security commitments to its allies in Europe, Asia and other parts of the world.

China has been increasingly reaching out to Latin American countries with an aim to undermine the US influence. It has since immensely increased trade, bailed out governments from financial distress, designed huge infrastructure projects, increased military cooperation and catered tremendous amounts of resources, tethering the destiny of many countries within the region to its own.

Even though in recent years parts of Latin America tilted to the right, its leaders facilitated their policies to accommodate Chinese demands. Currently, Beijing is dominating in large parts of the region — and what it has increased to a level raising alarm bells in Washington. The region should no begin to acquire sharp attention.

As per Diego Guelar, Argentina’s ambassador to China, “It’s a fait accompli.”

Trade Diplomacy

As per Boston University’s International Development Policy Centre Trade, between China and Latin American countries and the Caribbean increased to $244 billion last year. Since 2015, China has eclipsed the US in Latin America in terms of trade.

More importantly, Chinese have given away Billions of Dollars in commodities-backed loans across Latin America, giving it claim over a large share of the region’s oil — nearly 90% of Ecuador’s reserves — for years. Additionally, China made itself indispensable ally by rescuing governments and state-controlled firms in countries like Brazil and Venezuela, willing to heavily bid to secure its place within the region.

For countries like Argentina, which has been excluded from international credit markets for defaulting on $100 billion in bonds, China became a godfather for -President Cristina Fernández, who was in office at that time. While extending assistance, China started secret key negotiations that resulted in the establishment of satellite and space control station in Patagonia. Argentine officers say the Chinese have agreed for no military use of the station. However, specialists from the Global Intelligence community contend that the technology in the station can be used for both peaceful and military missions.

Frank A. Rose, associate degree assistant secretary of state for arms control in the Obama administration, told that he spent a lot of his time worrying on Chinese Space program. U.S. intelligence and defense officials watched with alarm as Chinese scientists developed refined technology to jam, disrupt and destroy satellites in recent years, he said. “They are deploying these capabilities to a blunt advantage of US military, Which is in many ways derived from Space Technology,” Rose same.

Point of no Return

Antennas and other equipment that are deployed to support space missions in Patagonia will also increase China’s intelligence-gathering capabilities, as per experts. Lt. Col. St. Christopher Logan, a Pentagon voice, said U.S. military officials were assessing the implications of the Chinese Monitoring station. Chinese officials declined to comment and requests for interviews about the base have not been replied.

 But Diego Guelar Argentinian Ambassador to China argued that halting Chinese engagement would be short-sighted, particularly when Washington has given up its long-standing role in Latin America. “There has been an abdication” of leadership by the United States, he said. “It surrendered that role not because it lost it, but because it doesn’t wish to take it on.”

The Argentine government was in financial crisis in 2009. Inflation was at its peak. Billions of dollars in debt payments were due shortly. Anger was swelling over the government when a call to nationalize $30 billion in private pension funds was given. This coupled with and also the worst drought in 5 decades was creating the economic scenario that looks very fragile.

China which was sitting on substantial cash reserves first struck a $10.2 billion currency swap deal that helped stabilize Argentinian peso. This with a promise to invest $10 billion to boost its economy. In the middle of all this, China additionally sent a team to Argentina to debate Beijing’s ambitions in space exploration. The Chinese desperately needed a satellite-tracking hub on the opposite facet of the world before the launch of an expedition to the far side of the moon.

If all goes well, the mission, scheduled to launch this year, it will be a milestone in lunar exploration, probably enabling for the extraction of Noble gas Helium 3. Some scientists believe that this may offer a revolutionary clean supply of energy for entire humanity. Thus the PLA’s division China Satellite Launch and Tracking Control General settled on this inhospitable 494-acre patch in Argentina’s Neuquén province. Flanked by mountains and secluded from population centers, this location offered a perfect vantage point for Chinese to watch over their satellites and space missions round the clock.

It’s Time

Félix Clementino Menicocci, secretary-general of Argentina’s National Space Activities Commission, an Argentinian Government Agency, gave a statement that the Chinese had pitched officials with guarantees of economic development and also the prospect of facilitating a history-making endeavor. “They’ve become major players in Space within the span of a couple of years,” Menicocci said of Chinese Space Program. After months of secret negotiations, Neuquén province and the Chinese government signed a deal in Nov 2012, giving China the right to use the land — rent free — for 50 years. The provincial lawmakers caught wind of the project only when construction was in full swing, some were dismayed.

Betty Kreitman, a leader in Neuquén at the time, same she was furious that the Chinese military was being allowed to construct a base on Argentine soil. As per Kreitman, “Surrendering sovereignty in your own country is shameful.” When she visited the construction site and pressed Chinese officials for answers she was baffled and left site more concerned. “This could be a window to the World,” she recalled the Chinese supervisor at the site says. “It gave me chills. What does one do with a window to the world? Spy on reality.”

R. Evan Ellis, a Professor of Latin American studies at the U.S. Army War school notes that the Chinese had also in all probability pursued relationships with other Latin American nations with an eye towards a possible confrontation with the U.S. “China is positioning itself in a world where it is safe for China to raise,” he said. “If you’re talking of world in 2049, from Latin American perspective, Chinese would have unquestionably surpassed the US on absolute power and size. Frankly, if it is a matter of sustained conflict, you reach a point where you can’t deny the likelihood of Chinese forces operative from bases within Latin America.”

31 July 2018/Tuesday.                                                                   Written by Mohd Tahir Shafi  

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